Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Welsh tuition fees scheme must see students beyond the Election

Welsh Liberal Democrats Shadow Education Minister, Jenny Randerson AM, today broadly welcomed the tuition fees proposal but warned the test of the scheme will be its long term sustainability.

Jenny Randerson said:

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats have always said that we should seek to mitigate the impact of tuition fees on Welsh students. That remains the right approach even in a challenging financial environment.

“But this must be a plan for the long term not a short term electoral fix for the Labour-Plaid government. I am concerned that the Minister was vague on the Government’s ability to fund future years.

“This scheme responds to the Browne Review, with terms of reference set by a Labour Government. It is a scheme with merit but which needs to stand up to scrutiny over the coming weeks. I will also be looking to ensure that the Minister’s criteria for part time students delivers part time students a fair deal. We must also make sure that the cuts in HEFCW (the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales), or top slicing as the Minister calls it, will not leave some universities with a funding stream gap between financial years.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Further delay in electrification decision

Commenting on the prospects of the electrification of the London to Swansea main line, Jenny Randerson AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Minister said:

“Gordon Brown announced the electrification project in 2009 and said work would start immediately but nothing happened. It is clear that not only did Labour fail to put aside any money to pay for the project, they had not carried out any of the detailed technical work needed before the project could even start. It is encouraging that the Government have signalled that they are still looking to progress this project and make an announcement in the new year. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are fully committed to the project, we have lobbied government extensively and continue to push for the technical assessments needed to be done as quickly as possible.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WAG consultant contagion

Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams has criticised the Labour-Plaid Welsh Assembly Government for presiding over a sustained increase in spending on external consultants.

Research by the Welsh Liberal Democrats has revealed that the spending on external consultants has increased every year for the past six years increasing from just £1.9 million in 2004 to a staggering £11.9 million last year (2009/10).

WAG spend on external consultants by year:

2004/05 £1.9 million
2005/06 £2.5 million
2006/07 £4.3 million
2007/08 £4.6 million
2008/09 £11.2 million
2009/10 £11.9 million

The continued rise in external consultants calls into question the ability of the Welsh government to deliver efficiency savings of £50 million in Central Services and Administration as set out in their budget last week, over three years.

Kirsty said: “The people of Wales will be appalled that spending on external consultants has soared under Labour-Plaid and is continuing to rise at a time when they should be directing money into front line services.

“As spending on consultants has increased, the total number of civil servants working for the Welsh government has more than doubled in the last ten years.

“People will soon grow tired of the First Minister’s crocodile tears of the Welsh budget settlement when he is failing to get to grips with wasteful spending.

“When governments at all levels have to make difficult decisions about spending, the Welsh people need the Labour-Plaid Government to get serious about rooting out waste and inefficiency so that front line services do not suffer. It seems that Labour and Plaid Cymru are oblivious to the tough times we are facing.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Labour-Plaid budget a missed opportunity on NHS waste, economic growth and pupil premium

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have responded to the Labour-Plaid budget, describing it as a missed opportunity to build Wales’s economic future, root out waste in the NHS and target funding at the poorest school children.

Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said:

“Welsh Liberal Democrats want front line health services protected but that does not mean that savings cannot be made in NHS bureaucracy. It is no good protecting the health budget when there is evidence that £1 billion of the health budget is being misspent.

“Despite the drop in unemployment announced in today’s figures, the economic recovery is still fragile. In these circumstances, it beggars belief that the economy and transport department that should be driving the Welsh economic recovery has faced some of the biggest cuts.

“The Labour-Plaid Government has consistently underfunded our schools. Education spending in Wales is over £530 lower per pupil than in England and this is reflected in Wales’s poorer exam performance. We welcome the commitment to the roll out of the foundation phase but it is desperately disappointing that the government hasn’t taken the opportunity to close the funding gap at all levels, starting with children from the poorest backgrounds. Neither should we be fooled into thinking that this is an education budget when the government are paying for their school funding by cutting cash from universities and FE colleges.

“As families and businesses tighten their belts, the public expect our Government to do the same. It is encouraging that this year’s budget seems to be looking for the savings in administration and central bureaucracy that the Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for.

“However, in some areas the steps being taken are far too tentative. One year after the Welsh Liberal Democrats proposed merging the numerous environmental quangos, the Labour Plaid government is only now promising ‘a review of options’ aimed at saving taxpayers money in this area.

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats will be seeking to work cooperatively with the government to address these concerns.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Welsh budget must include a pupil premium – Kirsty Williams

A day before the Welsh Government’s budget is announced, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling on the Labour-Plaid Government to ensure they root out waste and inefficiency in order to prioritise improving educational life chances for the poorest children.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Kirsty Williams said:

“Tackling waste must be a priority for this budget. Only one in five people think that public bodies in Wales used their resources in the most effective way. This reflects the concern of the Welsh Liberal Democrats that currently the Labour-Plaid government has not done enough to root out inefficiency in our public services. As families and businesses tighten their belts, it is reasonable of the public to expect our Government to do the same. It is by making efficiencies that the Welsh Government will be able to prioritise improving the life chances of the poorest children in Wales.

“The Labour-Plaid Government has consistently underfunded our schools. Education spending in Wales is over £500 lower per pupil than in England and sadly, this is now reflected in Wales’s poorer performance at GCSE and A level – where we have now slipped behind England for the first time.

“It is vital that in Wales we begin to close this funding gap, starting with children from the poorest backgrounds.

“The start you have in life can determine your prospects for the rest of your life so extra resources must be targeted at those who start the furthest behind.

“The Welsh budget is a chance to put that situation right for the poorest children in society. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling for a Welsh pupil premium that would mean schools would be able to help children from poorer homes much more effectively.”

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Spend money on tackling issue, not talking about it – Kirsty Williams

With a week to go until the Welsh Government’s budget is announced, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling on the Labour-Plaid Government to ensure that money allocated to government departments is put to the very best use.

£3.5 million of Welsh Government money has been spent in the last three years on climate change awareness, rather than programmes that directly reduce carbon emissions. Grants include £20,000 over two years for an annual newspaper supplements on climate change and over £0.5 million a year to the Sustainable Development Commission and Cynnal Cymru.

Welsh Liberal Democrats estimated that this money could have paid for around 1000 improvements to homes in fuel poverty through the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme – making an immediate impact on carbon emissions.

Previously, the Welsh Liberal Democrats also criticised the Environment Minister for spending nearly half a million pounds on bag tax publicity.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Kirsty Williams said: “With just over a week to go until the Labour-Plaid Government announce their budget for next year, Ministers need to ensure that taxpayers money is put to the very best use to tackle the problems we face in the most efficient manner possible.

“In the forthcoming budget the Labour-Plaid Government must make spending decisions based on delivering real results. Public awareness campaigns can play a part in highlighting issues but there are some areas, like climate change, where we’ve seen huge amounts spent on public awareness from films, celebrities and the voluntary sector with limited results.

“The Labour-Plaid Government didn’t have to spend £3.5 million on telling people about climate change. They didn’t have to spend £400,000 on plastic bag tax publicity as people will be well aware that they will have to pay 5p for a bag when they get to the till.

“The days of spend, spend, spend are over and now we are entering a time where efficiency and value for money should be the mantra.”

Labour Want Students to Pay More, says LibDem MP

Adrian Sanders, Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay, says:

"Why the media lets Labour get away with it I really don't understand, and the hypocrisy of the Labour Party supporting NUS leader is astounding. Who introduced tuition fees? Who commissioned Lord Browne and gave him his remit to look at the future funding of higher education? Which Party opposes the abolition of tuition fees and is split over a Graduate Tax? It's Labour, Labour, Labour.

"The Lib Dems still want to abolish tuition fees over the life time of a Parliament but can't until they get a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. So until people stop voting Labour and Tory we will be stuck with Tuition fees.

"The Coalition agreement changed for the period of the Coalition the Lib Dem pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees. Instead we were given an opt out to abstain in exchange for being able to influence the Government's response to Browne.

"And this is what that Lib Dem influence has achieved:

· All students will repay less per month under this Government's policy than they currently pay.

· The lowest earning 25% of graduates will repay less under this Government's policy than they do now.

· The top earning 30% of graduates will pay back more than they borrow and are likely to pay more than double the bottom 20% of earners.

· Over half a million students will be eligible for more non-repayable grants for living costs than they get now.

· Almost one million students will be eligible for more overall maintenance support than they get now

· Part time students will no longer have to pay upfront fees benefiting up to 200,000 per year

· There will be an extra £150m for a new National Scholarship Programme for students from poorer backgrounds and we will introduce tough new sanctions of universities who fail to improve their access to students from backgrounds.

"Labour opposes the above and wants to make students pay more, so why are the media letting Labour get away with it."

Friday, November 05, 2010

Labour MP's election at Oldham & Saddleworth deemed void

The verdict of the Special Election Court, held in Saddleworth, was announced this morning. It found against Phil Woolas, the shadow immigration minister.

Mr Justice Teare said: "In an election address entitled The Examiner, the
respondent [Mr Woolas] made a statement of fact, the meaning of which was
that the petitioner [Mr Watkins] attempted to woo, that is to seek, the
electoral support of Muslims who advocated violence, in particular
violence to the respondent.

"In a further election address entitled Labour Rose, he made a statement
of fact the meaning of which was that the petitioner had refused to
condemn extremists who advocated violence against the respondent.

"We have concluded that both of these statements, although made in the
context of an election and said to arise from a political position adopted
by the petitioner, were in relation to the petitioner's personal character
or conduct.

"In our judgment to say that a person has sought the electoral support of
persons who advocate extreme violence, in particular to his personal
opponent, clearly attacks his personal character or conduct.

"It suggests that he is willing to condone threats of violence in pursuit
of personal advantage.

"Having considered the evidence which was adduced in court we are sure
that these statements were untrue. We are also sure that the respondent
had no reasonable grounds for believing them to be true and did not
believe them to be true.

"We also found that (in) an earlier election address the respondent had
made a statement in fact, namely, that the petitioner had reneged on his
promise to live in the constituency. This too, although made in the
context of an election and said to arise from a statement made by the
petitioner as a candidate in that election, was in relation to his
personal character or conduct.

"It suggests that he is untrustworthy. The statement was false and the
respondent had no reasonable ground for believing it to be true and did
not believe it to be true.

"It follows in our judgment that the respondent is guilty of an illegal
practice, contrary to section 136 of the Representation of the People Act
1983 with regard to those statements."

The judge concluded: "The consequence of our finding that the respondent
is guilty of an illegal practice with regard to the statements we have
referred to is that, pursuant to section 159(1) of the Act, his election
as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Oldham East and
Saddleworth is void and we have so reported to the Speaker of the House of

"We are satisfied that the statutory penalties for the illegal practices
committed by the respondent are both necessary and proportionate, having
regard to the seriousness of the statements made with regard to the
petitioner's alleged attitude to the Muslim extremists who advocated

The judges made no reference to the sanctions on Mr Woolas, although it is
thought he could be barred from public office for a period of time.

The court remains in session as the judges deliberate on costs and Mr
Woolas's plans to launch a judicial review of the decision.

A Conservative's take on the coalition's compromises

On Tim Montgomerie's Conservative Home posting, Mark Pack comments:

Such are the realities of coalition politics — everyone has to compromise, recognising that no one party won the election. If the public really wanted undiluted Conservative or Lib Dem policies we needed to vote for them in sufficient numbers: we, the public, didn’t give either party that mandate, so now the politicians are making the best of the situation. Policies from all parties are being diluted: no wonder purists hate it.

As I commented in May, immediately after the Coalition Agreement was signed:

Many of the hobby horses of political parties which are not mainstream, and do not command majority public support, are jettisoned. Instead politicians learn to focus on those policy areas which they know the public will like, and on which there’s widespread agreement. Parties hate it – they like to be in control – but the public is the winner.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Welsh language official status failure: ‘a betrayal of historic proportions’

Commenting on the publication of a letter in the Western Mail calling on the Labour-Plaid government to honour their pledge for Welsh to be declared an official language, Eleanor Burnham AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Heritage Minister said:

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats have consistently argued that this legislation does not go far enough to protect and promote the Welsh language but our protests have fallen on deaf ears.

“It is staggering that so many distinguished champions of Welsh language and culture have now been driven to this extraordinary step to highlight the Labour-Plaid government’s lack of ambition for the Welsh language. After all, the Labour-Plaid government promised to give Welsh official language status in the One Wales agreement.

“Having posed as the defenders of the Welsh language for decades, if Plaid fail to give the Welsh language official status, it would be a betrayal of historic proportions.

“The Labour-Plaid government must now sit up and take notice and, even at this late stage, give the Welsh language the status in law that so many have campaigned for decades.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Kirsty Williams: Glastir scheme needs urgent reform

Kirsty Williams, AM for Brecon and Radnorshire and the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Rural Affairs, has once again criticised the Welsh Assembly Government’s flawed flagship agricultural policy Glastir during an Assembly debate on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) today.

Kirsty Williams said:

"CAP reform will be absolutely crucial in supporting agriculture in Wales in the future. Single Farm Payments make up between 80 and 90 per cent of many farm incomes, and moving to area based payments will cause great upheaval, especially in areas such as my own Brecon and Radnorshire who have traditionally benefitted from the historical based payments. I am therefore very pleased that the Rural Development Sub Committee has seen fit to investigate the CAP at this stage.

Adequate incomes for farmers are crucial for food security and the protection of our natural environment. It is ironic therefore that whilst the Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones accepts the need for agriculture to play its part in preserving our environment we are in the middle of the debacle that is Glastir. The scheme is so chaotic that many farmers will not enter the scheme and all of the environmental management carried out by farmers under previous agri environmental schemes will be lost. Time is running out for the Minister to look again at the scheme, and I urge her to do so.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Time for the Welsh Government to get a grip of falling educational standards

Commenting on new research published today which shows that Secondary schools are performing worse in Wales than England, Kirsty Williams AM, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said:

"The Welsh Liberal Democrats are fully committed to creating a fair education system that gives every child in Wales a fair start in order to reach their full potential, whatever their background.

“This report makes for worrying reading, finding that there has been a fall in educational standards in Wales of 1.92 GCSE grades per student per year. After decades of priding itself on the higher educational standards we promoted in Wales, we have slipped behind England. This must now be one of the most serious challenges facing the Welsh Government.

"The Labour-Plaid Government has consistently underfunded our schools. Education spending in Wales is over £500 lower per pupil than in England.

“The poorest Welsh children are almost three times less likely to leave school with five good GCSEs than their richer classmates. And now, for the first time since devolution, there is a gap opening up as English GCSE and A Level students outperform their Welsh peers.

"League tables were abolished in 2001 for sound reasons with support from politicians, academics and teachers. We must always be careful to keep an open mind. If the government believes that league tables are not the reason for the worrying drop in standards, what is?

“Pupils in England will soon begin to benefit from the Pupil Premium that will target extra money at schools admitting disadvantaged pupils. Thousands of children in England will finally be getting the extra support they need to succeed. The challenge now is for the Welsh Government to provide similar support so that Welsh children are not further disadvantaged.”

Welsh Liberal Democrats give cautious welcome to Waste Measure

Kirsty Williams AM Welsh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for the Environment, Sustainability and Rural Affairs has today welcomed the passing of the Wales (Waste) measure in the National Assembly for Wales.

The Measure aims to reduce the amount of waste and litter and to develop more effective waste management solutions here in Wales. Changes include introducing statutory targets for local authorities to meet in terms of recycling household waste, and gives ministers the ability to make retailers charge a fee for single use carrier bags.

Kirsty Williams said: “I am pleased that the Assembly has today passed the Waste Measure, which will help contribute to protecting Wales’ environment and our planet for the future. I am also pleased that the Minister has listened to advice and not only reduced the cost of the charge from 7p to 5p, but in light of the current economic circumstances also delayed the introduction until October 2011. I am however flabbergasted at the lack of preparation in some areas of the legislation, for example in terms of banning some subtances from landfill, the government haven’t even decided which body will oversee it. At stage two of the measure the Minister eluded to the Environment Agency being in charge, but in the chamber today she admitted that the Environment hadn’t even been contacted. Whilst I welcome the basic principles of the measure, this haphazard way of making legislation is not good for Welsh democracy.”